Two CUNY Seniors Win $20,000 In 13th Annual SmartPitch Competition
CUNY seniors Chris Zumtobel, left, and David Kurfirst described their business, ThinkOlio, at the SmartPitch showdown of finalists on June 3. Ã‚Â
Two CUNY students who met in a class at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business won the grand prize in the 13th Annual SmartPitch competition, a program run by the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise (IVE).
David Kurfirst ’15 and Chris Zumtobel ’15 impressed the judges with their presentation about Think Olio, their fledgling online business that “connects passionate teachers with unique venues and life-long learners.” An Olio (the word means “miscellaneous mixture”) is a lecture, discussion or workshop taught by someone who is enthusiastic about the subject. Modest class fees are split between the teacher and Think Olio.
“There are a million pitch contests out there, but at SmartPitch we remember that we’re an educational institution,” said Stuart Schulman, Professor of Management at Baruch and founder and Executive Director of IVE. He explained that the contest, which is open to all college students in New York City, is part of a semester-long program that includes workshops and mentorship opportunities. “It’s nice if you win, but it’s important to get the experience” of developing and explaining a business opportunity, he said.
Kurfirst and Zumtobel won the SmartPitch grand prize of $15,000, plus another $5,000 for winning the education track of the competition. They plan to invest the money in growing their business. Baruch student Maxwell Hodge won $5,000 in the sustainability track, and other tracks focused on healthcare and “smarter cities.”
The Think Olio team met in a Social Entrepreneurship class taught by Christopher Michael, who taught them the importance of being passionate. The course had a curriculum, but “the times when the class was the best was when he was talking about his own experiences,” Zumtobel said. “Nothing was off-limits,” Kurfirst said.
Kurfirst and Zumtobel have pursued liberal arts majors in the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies program, which enables them to design their own degree based on courses at any CUNY college. Zumtobel just graduated, while Kurfirst expects to later this year -- and both of them are totally committed to Think Olio. “We’re all in -- there’s no Plan B,” Zumtobel said.
The SmartPitch competition is sponsored by Verizon, and in 2015 the contest awarded $40,000 in prizes. Verizon also offered mentors to provide infrastructure, marketing and general business management support to the teams. The competition began early in the semester with 142 student teams from 22 colleges, and the finalists in each category made their final pitches at an event on June 4.
For the first time this year, SmartPitch was executed in partnership with the CUNY Center for Student Entrepreneurship, which assists students throughout CUNY in launching their own businesses. Kurfirst and Zumtobel participated in the CSE Incubator initiative.